A photo of Hoeryong taken in 2013 (Raymond Cunningham, Flickr, Creative Commons)

North Korea’s Ministry of State Security is still carrying out secret executions of people involved in espionage or other “special crimes,” Daily NK has learned.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday that four individuals in the city of Hoeryong were executed outside of the public eye by the Ministry of State Security last month. Most of the executed individuals were charged with espionage or involvement in special crimes.

“A couple of people have been secretly executed each week this year at the Ministry of State Security’s detention center in Hoeryong. The criminals are being executed by details of two, consisting of a corrections officer under the lead of an investigator from the municipal branch of the ministry,” the source said.

Significantly, most of the people sentenced to death are placed in solitary confinement. The measure is aimed at keeping the secret executions as confidential as possible, the source explained.

Some of the corrections officers at the ministry who have been assigned to the execution details are suffering from nightmares driven by feelings of guilt and terror, the source further reported. 

“One corrections officer with the ministry’s branch in Chongjin has trouble sleeping because of the people he’s killed. Others haven’t been able to eat a decent meal in days and are having hallucinations about their victims coming back to kill them,” the source said.

According to the source, a former interrogator and corrections officer for the ministry in Musan County offered the following reflections: “After killing someone, I was never in my right mind. When I was assigned to conduct a secret execution, I’d have a stiff drink before doing the job, but I’d still feel nauseated afterward and would be horrified about what I’d done. I often felt the urge to run away from it all.”

Because of those factors, the corrections officers who are assigned to execution details are rotated out every three months, according to the source. 

“In a world where people’s lives are treated as worthless, there’s nothing unusual about criminals being killed in prison. But strict measures are taken to carry out [the executions] in the utmost secrecy so that news doesn’t leak to the outside,” the source said.

North Korea’s secret executions are designed to prop up the regime and cement its control over the populace. Faced with international stigma due to its human rights record, the government appears to be decreasing the frequency of public executions; however, it appears likely that the regime will keep carrying out executions behind closed doors.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.